From Authors to Authors: Five Tips for New Indie Authors

Welcome to a new installment in the From Authors to Authors series! Today, author Jeffery Craig has five tips for new indie authors. If you’re starting out, you’ll find these tremendously helpful. And if you’re a seasoned author, you should take a look anyway, make sure you’re not missing out on anything!

What I Learned Along the Way: Five Tips for New Indie Authors

When I started my writing journey, I was focused on getting the words down on paper. I’d been kicking around an idea for a book for years, but I never did much with it, other than scribbling down a few thoughts every once in a while. One evening, after too much wine and a pointed conversation with a dear friend, I committed to giving it a shot. Surprisingly, finding the words was easy. In three weeks, I wrote several thousand pages, and the simple little book I’d envisioned eventually turned into two books, and the start of a series. Little did I know, writing the story was the just the first, easy step. After the first book was finished, the real work began, and the learning process related to publishing had me questioning everything I thought I knew about getting a book into a reader’s hands. Here are a few things I learned along the way.

1) There are a lot of options out there, and you need to make sure you understand each of them.

I originally decided I’d follow the traditional publishing path; write, polish, query agents, and find a publisher. It seemed like a pretty straightforward path, although a time consuming one. It wasn’t. I was lucky. I attracted the attention of a couple of small to mid-sized publishers early in the process —even before I had any luck in securing an agent. I learned what they had to offer and what would be required of me as a new author, and what I could expect from them. The process, timelines, rights agreements, and royalty structures were explained in detail, as were the requirements for additional editing and the extensive and ongoing marketing obligations I would need to undertake. It was a lot to digest, and I quickly realized didn’t have any baseline against which to evaluate these factors. I was confused and needed help, so I reached out to a small group of successful authors to get an idea of how they had each started their publishing journey.

Some were traditionally published, some were indies, and a couple were hybrids. They very graciously shared their experiences and their stories and their own challenges and triumphs. With each conversation, I was encouraged to do more research and then to weigh both short and long term options against what I learned. I was directed to a couple of terrific online groups which were focused on providing advice and direction to new authors just like me. After quite a bit of time spent reading the threads in these groups, I found myself better educated, and now second guessing my original plan. I’d always thought indie publishing was a path of last resort, and nothing better than a vanity press approach. Yet, there were a lot of established, successful writers (many of whom I’d read) who had opted to follow the indie path.

That’s when my real learning started. I reset my perceptions, and my research into the realities of today’s publishing world blew my mind. I eventually came to the conclusion that there are multiple paths one can take, and they’re all valid choices —as long as you understand the details and can objectively weigh the pros and cons of each. As you start your own journey, ask a lot of questions, read, and do your research. It’s okay to change your mind as you learn more. I eventually decided to join the indie publishing ranks, because, for me, it was ultimately the right choice.

Only one thing, in my mind, is written in stone: in today’s world, there’s absolutely no reason to have to pay someone to publish your book for you. Avoid companies who want to charge you for that privilege. In fact, run in the opposite direction as fast as your feet can carry you.

2) Paying for professional services is important, and you need to be prepared to make the investment.

Even though you shouldn’t pay someone to publish your book, the simple fact is, no one is an expert at everything needed to put a book together. Factoring the cost of professional services into your budget is important and it all adds up. A great cover is key to selling your book, and the first impression a potential reader forms about your work is very important. Thankfully, these days there are a lot of great sources for pre-made covers, and a fair number of designers who offer beautifully made covers at a reasonable price. Unless you’re an experienced graphic designer, find one. You’ll be glad you did.

Same thing with editors. Believe me, I’ve learned that the hard way. The truth is, editors are fairly expensive. After discovering how much a professional edit costs, I hoped I could rely on friends and family members to help me with this aspect of getting my book ready for publishing. Wrong. Just like a cover designer, you need a professional, and more importantly, you need the right professional. There are a lot of ‘editors’ advertising services and it’s hard to find the right one. Some are just starting out, many are experts at specific genres, and others have better development skills than technical skills, and vice versa. Learn the different types of editing and understand what each offers. It’s critical for you to learn your weaknesses as an author and pick an editor accordingly because not every editor can minimize your shortcomings. For example, I’m a poor typist and a little dyslexic. I need a great line editor more than I need a developmental editor. Someone who has the attention to detail and the technical grammar skills to catch and fix as many of my annoying errors as humanly possible is worth their weight in gold. Be truthful with your perspective editor and make sure you understand each other’s expectations. Most importantly, understand from the beginning that regardless of how good an editor is, the responsibility for the end product ultimately rests with you, the author. No one will care about your book more than you. I didn’t realize just how important this was in the beginning, and my first two books suffered and had to be corrected after they were published. I’m on my fourth book right now and working with my third editor. I hope I’ve finally found the right one. If and when you find the editor that’s right for you, hang on to them. Also, understand that no one person will catch every mistake. The more you, and your editor, looks at a given set of material, the less likely it is errors will be found. Typos hide. An incorrect word camouflages itself expertly within your beautifully crafted paragraph, waiting for the moment to surprise and confound unsuspecting readers. If you can afford it, hiring a separate proofreader is helpful, and a beta group is a treasure.

A great professional formatter is also a plus, although many authors either have skills in this area or eventually learn how to do this themselves. Still, if you get to the point where you have the extra funds to hire someone, do it. Then, you can focus on the fun part — the writing itself.

3) The marketing of your book and brand never ends, and it’s hard.

If someone could invent the perfect one size fits all marketing plan for authors, they’d make a fortune. The fact is, no single plan will work for everyone. The best approach is to read everything you can and test the waters. Start small and try a number of things. There are a lot of great books out there and they each provide good food for thought.

Once you find the marketing approach that works for you and for your books, shift your marketing efforts into high gear, with the understanding you might need to change that approach if you write a book in a different genre down the road. Build your author brand. Set up pages on social media and create a website if you can. Keep your branding consistent across your channels (use the same author picture, the same tags lines, uniform naming, etc.), and cross link them together. The easier you make it for readers to find you and to learn about who you are, the better off you’ll be. Start early —even before your book is ready. Build a mailing list. Engage with your readers as much as possible, but don’t spam. Search out to interest groups that may have a connection to your book and participate with them in value-add ways. It all sounds daunting, and it is. I learned from multiple published authors that best thing you can do is to make a schedule and set time boundaries regarding how many hours a week you can reasonably spend on those activities and stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself sucked into the black hole of book promotion and will find yourself frustrated and exhausted. Most importantly, be ready to get the next book out there as soon as possible. Nothing will help you as an author more than having a growing body of work for your new readers to enjoy.

4) Grow a thick skin and realize that a reader’s reaction to your book is subjective, and based on their own perception at a given point in time.

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to love your book. Accept it. Readers experience a book differently based on their backgrounds, their preferred genres, and even based on how their day has unfolded. They may love your writing style, and feel warm and fuzzy about your characters on Tuesday, and after getting bad news at work on Thursday, decide the story you slaved over just isn’t for them. A specific section or plot you’re especially proud of might resonate favorably with them or may cause them to remember something unpleasant in their life. What they hate this week, they might love next year. Don’t take it personally. Believe me, a bad review sucks and can wreck your day. Break any tendency you might have to spiral down into the deep, dark, sad pools of despair and climb out of your wallow. When you get a bad review, and you will one day, the only thing that helps is distance. Once you’re ready, step back and try to determine if there’s anything constructive in a negative review that might help you become a better writer. Disregard any purely personal attack as unhelpful. The reverse is also true. Don’t start thinking you’re the best writer in the universe just because you next door neighbor says you are. Learn to look at your work objectively, and with a learning mind. Find the good, golden nuggets of praise and mine them for those times you need extra encouragement, and take those honestly offered constructive comments with a thankful attitude. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy and lose the joy and the drive that made you want to write in the first place. A thick skin, combined with a realistic view of your current skills, is invaluable.

5) Finally, find the truth and learn to write it.

The best stories and the most enduring characters all come from a place of truth. That’s not to say your story has to be based on true events. However, even imagined worlds, strange, supernatural characters, and improbably skills or capabilities can and should all carry within their core their own unique version of the truth and it’s that veracity that makes words sing. Dig inside yourself for those magical, genuine factors that make a story believable within its own construct and context, and get them on the page. Don’t shy away from revealing the ugly along with the beautiful, but instead, capture and celebrate the contradictions which provide tension and dynamic dimension. For those hours, or days, a reader is engaged with your book, allow them to become immersed in someone else’s reality. Give them that gift. They’ll thank you for it.

About the author

Jeffery Craig resides in the southeastern United States and shares his life with his husband and a menagerie of much loved pets. For several years, he worked as an executive providing technology and consulting services to clients in the financial services sector. He is an avid supporter of the arts, and owns a small antique business specializing in vintage and estate jewelry from the 1850s to the 1950s.

When he isn’t writing, he might be found working on a painting or enjoying the covered porch of his historic Victorian home with a great book in hand. He can be contacted via his webpage, or on social media.

Author’s Webpage ~Author’s Facebook pageAuthor’s Amazon PageJeffery Craig’s BlogAuthor’s YouTube Channel

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A pleasure to meet you! I’m Alina Popescu, an author, traveler, and hopeless coffee addict. I write urban fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and sometimes even contemporary stories. A significant number of my books are LGBTQ fiction and romance.

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